Like any other 22-year-old Floridian, Eric Ducharme loves to swim, except when he dives into the water, he trades his swim trunks for a floppy tail.
Ducharme is a self-proclaimed merman, a mystical male counterpart to the mermaid. As the legend goes, these seductive sea creatures with the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish, make themselves visible to ships during thunder storms and would lure the opposite sex into the water with their siren-like singing.
According to a story in The Daily Mail, Ducharme says he eats, sleeps, and breathes mermaids and mermen and tries to impersonate them whenever he can. "It's a lifestyle. It's a path in life that I have chosen," he says during a Wednesday night episode of TLC's "My Crazy Obsession," a reality show that follows people whose adoration for objects has become an obsession.
His love for all things mermen began as a child when, according to his website, his grandparents took him to an underwater theater and a woman in a mermaid costume swam by blowing kisses to the audience; at age six, Ducharme's father hired two mermaids to swim up to a dock where the boy was eating his birthday cake. When he was 13, Ducharme created his company Mertailor, LLC and sold his own handcrafted tails made from garbage bags and various fabrics. Three years later, he put on his first show, swimming as the mermaid prince in the Weeki Wachee Springs Little Mermaid show. "Eric is obsessed with mermaids," says his mother Candy Ducharme. "We have our own passions. That's Eric's life."
"It's taking me a really long time to kind of understand my place in life," Ducharme says of his obsession. Three times a week, he slips into his shiny handmade fin to swim Florida’s natural springs, an hour and a half drive from his home in Crystal River. He calls it "mermaiding" a time to escape the pressures of the real world. "When I put on a tail I feel transformed," says Ducharme, who can hold his breath for four minutes at a time. "I feel like I'm starting to enter into a different world when I hit the water."
And although his boyfriend Matthew Quijano was initially shocked, he's accepted the mermen lifestyle. "When I first met Eric, I was introduced to the subject of mermaids, on our first date," he says."Your jaw just kind of drops and you're just like, 'wow.' When we go swimming I don't even see him because he swims off to his own little corner, it's all about getting away from the rest of the world…Sometimes we have to ask people what's with the scolding looks because they're just like, 'why is there a guy in a tail? It's supposed to be a girl,''' Quijano says, shrugging. "Haters gonna hate."
No matter. Business at Mertailoris booming. His mermaid and mermen wet suits (made from silicone, urethanes, and latex rubbers in different colors and textures of scales and fins) range from $185 for the spandex tail to $2,759 for the silicon version and there's even a kid's tail priced at $169. The tails have been featured in photo shoots on Germany's "Next Top Model", in advertisements for Skittles and on "Saturday Night Live" in the music video "I'm on a Boat" featuring T-Pain. Ducharm's client list even includes Lady Gaga.
Ducharme's mission is to make his costumes available to "every aspiring mermaid and merman who dreams of life in the sea."